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Currently a senior dev and being offered a chance to move into an Engineering Manager position focusing on personnel. Reading the web, it seems that some say 5-7 is the max and others have 30-40 under them, but manage with a lighter touch.

We have a structure of teams of 4-6 (usually a product manager, a QA or two, a dev or two and a technical lead). There are 6 teams at present. The company is keen to keep the high-performing tech leads away from day-to-day personnel management and have them focus on technical guidance and leadership - which is fine. However, it seems a bit daunting to take on board approx 20-30 people with 1:1s, career development planning, pastoral care, calendar management and many other things besides, much of which will be measured for success by senior management using various metrics (some of them intangible, eg. happiness/harmony).

Knowing that the devs like to be left for good chunks of the day to develop and not wanting to over-meeting them at first, my plan is to have 1:1s every fortnight for 15 minutes of focused time, with longer meetings set up where necessary following the 1:1. This roughly means 7-8 hours of 1:1s spread over 10 work days which doesn't seem that onerous to me as a commitment. I realise there will also be preparation/notes post meeting taking up more time, but does that seem feasible or am I being totally naïve here?

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  • Are you asking how much management time you expect to invest overall? Are you expected to continue being a senior dev as well? I managed a team that only peaked at 13 and it can certainly be a full-time job depending on the people on your team (these were electronics technicians though and not software developers). – ionizing Jan 15 at 12:29
  • You're a senior dev but are you a team lead? Do the teams have leads, as such? If they do and you're not a team lead it seems like a big leap to go from having to management experience to being an engineering manager in charge of all teams... – neubert Jan 15 at 13:52
  • I used to be a team lead elsewhere before this role. I won't be carrying on the senior dev role, but will work with the VP of engineering to implement initiatives across the devs. There are no team leads, there are tech leads and some agile coaches that work across teams to set up scrum ceremonies. The EM role they want me to fulfill is to implement a culture of collaboration, coaching and mentoring. Make sure devs have clear goals and career paths and manage any work /personal issues that affect work. – TheMook Jan 15 at 17:29
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I'm an EM and I've ranged from 12 - 17 reports. I'm skeptical that you can do as much as you want for 30 people.

First, 15 minutes is really short for a quality 1-1. I allow 30 minutes and occasionally those are rushed. (Most range between 10-20 minutes). Scheduling longer as needed isn't as feasible as it sounds -- it ruins the flow when you suddenly have to move to another meeting and that connection you were having is lost. You'll also need to allow time for prep for these meetings -- with this many reports you need lots of notes, which means writing afterwards and looking up notes before. 1-1s are not a checkbox to tick off -- it's the time to make a real, personal connection with your reports, and that takes time.

You also need to allow time for meeting with people above you and for actually doing things that come from these meetings. And don't discount the time for context shifting -- if you're bouncing from meeting to meeting with no down time in between you'll quickly get exhausted.

I'm not saying you can't manage 20-30 people, just saying that the more people you have the more superficial that management needs to be. Definitely push for getting this number split in half -- both your reports and the company will reap the rewards.

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  • Downvoter, could you please tell me how i can improve my answer? Thanks! – Kathy Jan 15 at 15:51
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    Agreed. If you assume that managing somebody takes 1 hour/week total per person, then 30 reports = 30 hours = basically your entire job. So you'd better go into it with eyes wide open. Managing is the job now, not developing. – Kaz Jan 15 at 16:10
  • Good points, well made. I'm still helping to define the role along with senior staff and one of the concerns is the number of reports. There is a possibility of splitting this to a smaller number and I appreciate the thoughts of those suggesting it. I'm not treating it lightly, I appreciate the input as it will help me define a workable situation. – TheMook Jan 15 at 17:31

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